Immigration & Customs Inspector Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about an immigration and custom inspector's salary, training requirements and career prospects. Read the job descriptions and see the pros and cons of becoming an immigration and customs inspector.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Immigration and Custom Inspector

Immigration and customs inspectors, better known as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, are responsible for protecting the thousands of miles of borderlands and coastal areas of the country that are sensitive to illegal immigration, smuggling attempts and other unlawful threats to the country's national security. Read this pros and cons list to help determine if a career in immigration and customs is for you.

Pros of a Career as a CBP Officer
Higher-than-average wage ($79,870 median annual salary in 2014)***
Exciting work (protecting the country from terrorists, illegal aliens and smuggled animals, among other threats)*
Attractive employee benefit plan (CBP officers with at least 20 years of service may be eligible for retirement at age 50)**
Prestige (CBP officers are some of the most respected professionals in federal law enforcement)

Cons of a Career as a CBP Officer
High-risk work environment (CBP officers are routinely at risk of bodily harm due to the dangerous nature of the job)**
Strenuous entry-level requirements (CBP applicants must submit to a battery of pre-employment evaluations)*
Limited employment opportunities (Jobs projected to show no change over 2014-2024 decade)***
Long work hours (may be required to work mandatory overtime, nights and weekends)**

Sources: *U.S. Customs and Border Protection, **U.S. Office of Personnel Management, ***O*NET OnLine.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Immigration and customs inspectors analyze the passports and visas of international persons wishing to enter the country, interview questionable individuals, detain those who violate immigration laws and look for illegal contraband. They might inspect baggage or cargo for illegal or forbidden products and record their findings.

One of the most important duties of these federal law enforcement agents is to conduct line watch, which is the covert act of discovering and apprehending terrorists, illegal immigrants and smugglers. This also involves monitoring electronic sensor cameras, evaluating aircraft carriers and conducting routine traffic checks along the borders. As a CBP officer, you may also be required to handle seized animals and handle cases of diseases that have been detected at the borders.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

According to the CBP's website, there is an important need for CBP officers who can patrol the country's southwestern border, which includes the borders of states such as California, Arizona and New Mexico. Thus, most hiring is anticipated to take place in this southwest region. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) included the salary statistics of immigration and customs officers with those of detectives and criminal investigators, who as a whole commanded a median annual salary of around $79,870 in 2014 (www.bls.gov).

Career Paths and Specializations

Applicants for CBP officer positions are grouped according grades, which are largely determined by the level of knowledge, experience and education a particular applicant may have. Applicants who qualify for a GS-5 grade level are typically required to have at least three years of relevant administrative experience and the ability to learn and apply information.

Applicants who qualify for the GS-7 grade level are required to have specialized expertise in a relevant field of work that involved such duties as preliminary screenings, audits and border inspections. GS-7 grade positions may include specialized positions such as analyst, examiner, technician and assistant. It is important to note that CBP officers are professionals who are only employed by one government agency, the Customs and Border Patrol.

Career Skills and Requirements

Applicants are required to hold a substantial amount of professional experience in environments that are similar to the one in which they'll be working as CBP officers. These previous professional experiences do not need to be related to law enforcement. If you lack this experience, you may compensate for it by holding a bachelor's degree in any field. Applicants with neither substantial professional experience nor a bachelor's degree may meet the requirements through a combination of experience and education (www.cbp.gov).

In addition to the above requirements, applicants must also meet a range of physical and emotional requirements. You will need to undergo a pre-placement medical examination, which tests your vision, hearing and physical ability, among other areas. You may also need to demonstrate the ability to learn Spanish, provide proof of U.S. citizenship and residency and comply to take a drug test. Candidates must also be under 40 years of age, unless special circumstances allow this requirement to be waived.

Useful Skills

You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:

  • The ability to speak Spanish fluently
  • The ability to solve problems creatively and efficiently
  • The ability to deftly execute hand-eye tasks that involve hand-eye coordination, agility and other physical skills
  • The ability to interact well with others
  • The abilities to manage your time, information, tasks and other people

How to Stand Out

CBP officers aspiring to supervisory and managerial positions are required to complete a battery of competency assessment examinations. These exams test the quality of officers' professional experience, their critical thinking skills, their writing skills and their abilities to respond to different professional situations. As a candidate for promotion, you'll also be required to complete a test of your knowledge in areas such as federal regulations, laws and job procedures.

Continuing Education

Since a significant part of this job is predicated on an officer's competence in using firearms, understanding regulations and performing detailed searches, the skills necessary for successfully carrying these tasks out must be refreshed and updated regularly. For instance, officers who take diagnostic job skills assessments receive feedback on the areas of training they'll need to become better professionals and may be given several resources, such as manuals and feedback guides.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're having some doubts about a career as a CBP officer, but would still like to go into a career with similar duties and responsibilities, you may consider becoming a police detective or correctional officer. Police detectives share many job functions with CBP officers, such as enforcing state and federal laws, conducting investigations, conducting searches and seizures, patrolling areas and conducting traffic stops. The BLS projected the national employment of police officers and detectives projected to be relatively slow compared to other professions through 2020. In 2010, the median annual wages of police and detectives was around $55,000.

Correctional officers, as with CBP officers, are responsible for enforcing laws and regulations, conducting routine inspections and patrolling the prison locale. You may gain entry-level employment as a correctional officer with a high school diploma or its equivalent. As with police detectives, the BLS projected that the national employment of correctional officers would be slow relative to other professions through 2020. In 2010, correctional officers and jailers earned a median annual salary of around $39,000.

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Law Enforcement
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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

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Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice

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Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice

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Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Baker College Online

  • Law Enforcement Academy (Police) - Bachelor
  • Criminal Justice - Bachelor

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Benedictine University

  • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus

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